In many ways, Steep is exactly the kind of extreme sports game I’ve been waiting a long, long time for.
I love a good extreme sports game, see. Back in the day SSX was my go-to franchise whenever I had a hankering for some snow based shenanigans, but publisher EA appear to have forgotten that it exists – perhaps trapped in the same void Skate 4 exists in.
The Tony Hawk’s games were always a big love of mine too – as I’m sure they were for many of you. Of course, the less said about the wretched turd known as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, the better.
So when Ubisoft announced Steep – an open world extreme winter sports game – I was genuinely excited.
Now, after having spent a great deal of time exploring the snowy mountains and jumping/falling off whatever I could find, I’m happy to report that Steep is great – though not without a few issues.
It’s usually at this stage in the review that I’d quickly talk you through ‘The Point’ of the game. You know, who you are, why you’re here, who/what you’re supposed to be saving/collecting/killing.
However, Steep is literally just a game about climbing mountains and then finding entertaining ways to get back down those mountains. There’s no story, and no major reason for being there – it’s just simple and fun.
As such, it’s beautifully refreshing that the game doesn’t subject us to some strung out tutorial. We’re pretty much placed on a mountain and told to go nuts.
While we’re initially nudged towards certain ‘tracks’, you’re more than welcome to fuck off and do what you want from the word go if you’re feeling confident.
I should point out that the snowy mountainous region we find ourselves in while playing Steep is absolutely gorgeous, by the way.
From the looming mountains and swirling mist in the distance, to the way your snowboard carves a path through the pure white snow as you speed ever downwards, Steep is a game that will constantly have you pausing to marvel at the scenery.
It helps that there are zero loading screens while playing too, especially given that you’ll want to try a certain course multiple times to get the best possible score.
See, you could just walk back up a mountain if you want, but that’d take fucking ages – believe me, I tried. What Ubsisoft has done (and god bless them for it), is add the ability to jump anywhere in the world at the press of a button – with no loading.
Need to get back to base camp to scout out another potential jump? Open up the map and you’re done. Just finished a course and want to head up and go again? It’s as easy as the press of a button.
Obviously Steep needed to be a fluid, accessible, and fast paced game if it was ever truly going to work, and Ubisoft has pulled this off with aplomb.
It also helps that all four activities, and the entire world are available to you within roughly the first thirty minutes of play. For those that aren’t aware of what we have on offer, there’s snowboarding, skiing, paragliding, and wingsuit flying.
Of the four, snowboarding is by far my favourite. Heading to the top of a mountain just to blast back down it at high speeds, pulling off as many tricks as you feel brave enough to try is an absolute joy, while skiing offers a largely similar experience.
Paragliding is perhaps the weakest of the four, and while there’s a certain tranquility to be found while floating over the mountains and forests below, it’s a bit… slow.
Wingsuit flying, on the other hand, is aerial sport done right. Plummeting straight down, avoiding jagged rocks and trying your best not to smash into the ground and die is a blast – it’s most likely this one and snowboarding you’ll spend the most time with.
As an added bonus, you can also switch to first person at the push of a button during any ‘ride’, which is really fucking cool, but not something you’ll want to leave on all the time, as the speeds at which you travel make it pretty hard to play and actually see what’s coming as you blitz through the snow.
So with Steep, you get four sports of varying quality for your money. Four might not be the biggest number (indeed, math will tell you it’s one of the smallest), but the sheer size of the world ensures that the game is packed with new routes to race and secrets to find.
This goes hand in hand with the seamless online aspect, in which we’re encouraged to race and compete with other players for the highest scores – it’s basically old school arcade style fun, all wrapped up in a lovely open world that you can share with anyone and everyone.
In essence, Steep is a game that relies on player-made moments for the most part. It wants you, the player, to explore and chart out your own challenges for others, and it encourages you to interact with the other players in the game, since NPCs are essentially non-existent.
Wordless multiplayer moments, such as bumping into other players at the very top of a mountain before deciding to race them back down, or spotting a poor soul as they paraglide into the side of a mountain were great fun, and it was this element of randomness that largely kept me coming back for more.
Of course, this directionless winter sandbox approach does have its drawbacks, the most notable being that your enjoyment of Steep is entirely dependant on how long you can tolerate its wintry charms before you start to get bored of leaping off mountains.
I’ve no doubt that there’s a small group of gamers that will put a lot of time into this game over the coming weeks, and a larger group that’ll happily boot up Steep every now and again for the next few months so that they can tear up the virtual Alps.
For the most part though, I fear many a gamer will be put off by the fact there’s no real ‘point’ to the game, and with no tangible set of goals, Steep might well go cold fast.
Still, I firmly believe that everyone can have fun with Steep in some capacity. It’s a gorgeous extreme sports extravaganza that’s packing some quality ideas and truly exhilarating moments for those with the patience to seek them out.
Some of you might want to wait till it comes down in price a little, but anyone missing games like SSX (and let’s face it – we all are) could do a hell of a lot worse.